Travel Articles

Turkey- Guzelyurt

Güzelyurt is a part of Turkey, which has not been totally discovered by tourists, allowing travelers who do make it here to see Turks living a traditional lifestyle. We’re riding here with Ahmet Diler of Kirkit Voyage, who grew up in Cappadocia and seems to know everyone in the area, making me feel a bit like a local on my travels here.

Ahmet’s stables in Guzelyurt are right on the edge of the village. We arrived the night before to pick our horses for the next days trek. I have ridden a lot of different breeds, but before this trip to Turkey had not ridden many Arabians. This breed is prized for its endurance, spirit and intelligence, and I was a little worried before I traveled here that the horses might be too spirited! I am glad to say that the Arabians that I have ridden in Turkey have been just right. For the past few days, I had been riding an angel of an Arabian named Incion. I was a little nervous to switch, but was pleasantly surprised by how well my new horse, Üzüm, was listening to me as we left from the stables, right on the edge of the village.

We headed along a trail through farmland towards the high church and monastery of Analepsis. The church and monastery rest on a hill overlooking a lake and the village. The setting is peaceful on the outskirts of town. We passed people working in their fields and women and men riding donkeys and carrying supplies to their homes. People here still very much have an agricultural lifestyle. Ahmet explained that most people have a plot land that they cultivate for themselves and their family.

If you arrive to Guzelyurt in the morning or evening, as we did on the preceding day, you’ll see a procession of cows leaving and coming back to the village. In this village, the cows literally come home at night and some even walk right through the front door and into their owner’s house. Families may keep a cow that provides them with fresh milk. During warmer months, they pretty much send their cow to day care during the day. Residents let their cows out onto the streets and a shepard herds them out to the fields for the day. At night, the shepard drops them off in the village and each cow walks to its owner’s home.

When we rode into town, many children came out of their stone houses to greet us and our horses. The kids were excited to see a film crew, and Greg, our cinematographer, let them come over and check out our camera and what we were filming. We were then graciously invited by a local family to have ayran, a popular drink here in Turkey. Ahmet described ayran as the national drink of Turkey. Ayran is made from yogurt, water and salt. There are mass made, mass sold brands, but my first experience with ayran would be the homemade kind, sitting in the courtyard of a traditional Guzelyurt home. As two women separated wheat by hand, I had my first sip. It tasted very salty and a little tangy to me, but I have to admit, it was refreshing, especially since it is so hot right now here in Turkey.

I asked the grandmother of the family what she would do with the wheat that she was putting into her smaller bowl. She told me that it would be mashed up for their cow, who was currently out for the day. I also asked her (Ahmet translated) how she got her cow to come back each night. She pointed to the bowl and said that because she feeds her cow well, it keeps coming home. Sounds a lot like my cat!

Back on our horses, we rode through a more colorful part of the village, paying attention to the intricate carvings on some of the homes. Many of the homes in the village are made of stone and built above or in front of caves carved out of the rocks. People use these caves to store food. The caves are nice and cool, so many people in this village use the caves instead of modern refrigerators.

Part of the village is built upon an underground city, dug out of the rocks by Christians centuries ago. In these vast underground caves, early Christians hid to avoid persecution. We left our horses outside of the underground city and ventured inside, clamoring through various cool caves lit by fluorescent bulbs. In the kitchen, with its charred ceiling and various indentations in the floor which were used for storage, Ahmet described what daily life was like for the people who lived underground. They were very resourceful.

This little adventure through the underground city is not for the claustrophobic, as you are climbing underground through sometimes small passageways. We only went two stories down. Some cities extend down several floors and were built to hold tens of thousands of people. Many of the cities, which are sprinkled throughout Cappadocia, have not been fully excavated.

Two floors underground, I used my flashlight to stare down what looked like an endless well. Suddenly, the power in the entire underground city went out. For a few seconds, I freaked. As you could imagine, you don’t want to walk around a dark series of caves with indentations and holes in the floor that drop further and further down IN THE DARK! I had already hit my head trying to quickly pass through a smaller passageway on floor one.

Our crew used our one flashlight and the light on our camera to find each other and begin to climb up out of a narrow shaft in the ceiling to a higher floor. There, a a bit of light shone through an airhole that led to the outside world. In the dark, I could really imagine people hiding quietly in this cave when it was dangerous above and how scary that would have been.

Safely back on our horses and with the lights in the underground city fixed, we headed towards Guzelyurt’s main square, where the town’s men sit and drink tea and play backgammon. I would spend tonight in an old monastery, Hotel Karballa, and head further south to Turkey’s coast tomorrow. Cappadocia has been amazing, with villages and trails that are more exotic than I could have imagined.

Learn more about visiting and riding in Guzelyurt, Turkey.